Lessons from a YSA Ward: Serve, Love, Believe

I attended the Wilford YSA ward in Millcreek, Utah, for over 7 years, which means about 350 Sacrament meetings in the same chapel. Many who have spoken or stood at the pulpit have looked out over the congregation and gazed upward to a beautiful frieze of Christ teaching in the temple, which hangs at the back of the chapel. As many of you know, it’s not very common to have imagery in our LDS chapels, but this building is an exception.

When the Savior Jesus Christ was 12 years old, he and his parents traveled to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.

“And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.”

They returned to Jerusalem, seeking him out, and after 3 days, “they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when [Mary and Joseph] saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

“And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

In the scriptures, the word Father when referred to the second time is capitalized, as Jesus is referring to his Heavenly Father.

I have contemplated this passage so much recently. The Savior set the example for us to always be about His Father’s business…to be doing what God the Father wanted him to do. Many of us feel that same desire to just know what God would have us do. If and when we know, we are ready to jump and do what He is asking us to do.

As many of you know, my tenure in the Wilford YSA Ward ended in September. I turned 32, which is, as you know, greater than 31, the “cut off” age for YSA Wards. The stake presidency, the bishop and others do not “kick you out” as we often call it just because we age out of the young single adult ward. However, for many months, I knew that I needed to make the change and transition out of the YSA Ward. To say it was difficult is an understatement. The Wilford YSA ward had been my refuge, my grace, my home, and my family. But life is just life. As I set a date for when I would leave the ward, it happened to coincide with some other things I was working on in my life.

I had been looking at homes for a long time and finally one came up that just “fit” for me. As I pondered and prayed and sought to know if it was “right”, I felt fine about things, but didn’t feel an amazing answer. But I moved forward in faith. After my offer on the home was accepted, I naturally freaked out a bit as it meant that this change (and many other changes) were real and I was moving forward. I had several moments of discouragement and nervous anxiety about this next step. But as I prayed one night, I felt a distinct heavenly impression, “Liz, thank you for where you’ve been. I need you to serve elsewhere now.” But wasn’t what I was doing there good enough? Thankfully, I felt then that it was good enough and that the change would be hard and that I would miss my ward terribly and that I could still have done good where I was, BUT it was time to be about the Father’s business. I was needed elsewhere.

Being about the Father’s business and doing God’s will is, veritably, difficult. But I want to share 3 principles that I have learned from my YSA experience—and largely from my Wilford YSA experience—that have shown me what it means for all of us to be about our Father’s business. The principles are: Serve. Love. Believe.

First, Serve.

The Wilford YSA ward was an incredible example of service over the years. For the first 5 years in the ward, I had the privilege to serve as the service co-chair.

When I first moved into the ward, I was coming from a BYU-centric apartment-based ward and the dynamics and demographics of this new ward were a little daunting to me as the ward tends to skew older (I needed to get out so the average age could drop!) and be more spread out. But the bishop told us as we moved in, “Jump in with both feet. Don’t dip a toe in. Jump.” So I jumped into the ward with my new calling. Service co-chair has no written calling in the Church Handbook of Instructions so it’s kind of a make-it-up-as-you-go calling.

In many of my former BYU Wards, I had joined in with groups that went and sang to residents at care centers. Immediately, I felt inspired to invite members of our ward to serve in the same way. We initially began visiting residents at the nearby Wentworth care center. As we got to know the residents, we sang to them individually. Word spread and they asked us to sing to them as a group. The members of this ward came—and still do come—every Sunday, to sing to the residents there. We are known as “the Singers” at the center, and we’re even on their event calendar. This has been one of the best ways I’ve gotten to know members of the ward, but it’s also given me a perspective so much beyond myself. We are LOVED at the Wentworth. They count on us to come. They ask us about our lives. They miss us when we’re not there. The members of the Wilford YSA Ward are those who have made this wonderful thing happen. I am astounded at the constant and continuous service of those who have volunteered their nap time on Sundays to serve.

Our ward has also continuously planned and carried out a Big Band night, which is probably my favorite event of the year. This fantastic ward prepares an evening of fun for 70+ year old single members of the family stake and provides a dinner, live band, and dancing to favorite tunes from their era. It’s an amazing night. I love this ward for supporting these opportunities.

Every Christmas, we have supported 5-10 families in Sub for Santa gift-giving. I can’t even describe the generosity I saw from members of this ward as they gave up their means to support others in need.

We’ve cleaned up yards together, fed the homeless, made food boxes at the Food Bank, done book drives, and done many other things to lend a helping hand. And aside from that are all the personal acts of service of helping people move, offering rides, helping with job and school applications, providing a listening ear or offering a blessing. My  YSA ward was a ward of service—one that continues to be about our Father’s business.

For those who may be struggling to know how to be involved in a ward, don’t wait to be asked. Just go and serve. And look for ways to magnify your calling. Whatever calling you have, that is the most important one, and we have all been asked to be about the Father’s business in fulfilling it.

I have seen incredible miracles as I’ve served the members of the YSA ward. For the last 3+ years, I served in family history, helping others seek out information about their ancestors and come to know them. One amazing example was with a sister in our ward who was raised by her grandpa. While she knew her mom, she had never met her dad and her mom had told her very little. When her mom came forward with some information, this sister found her dad had passed away. She came to family history hoping to find out how to perform saving work for him in the temple. As we searched him out, we started to discover more about him and about his family—his parents and grandparents. We discovered he had a sibling who was possibly still living close to where she was raised. After additional “research” (I try not to call family history work “stalking”), we started contacting a few people and she got in touch with her uncle and cousins, who never even knew she existed. She has now gained a new family because of her interest in keeping her covenants to seek out ancestors. I’ve seen countless other miracles. Serving others is an opportunity to see God’s hand in others’ lives and our own.

The second principle: Love.

I love the members of the Wilford YSA ward, past and present. I loved the 3 bishoprics I served with and all 3 stake presidencies. The principle of love is often related to service, but I want to address it separately.

I have seen how expressions of love to others change hearts—including our own.

I would like to share a few experiences of love from the members of this ward.

A few years ago, some ward missionaries were out doing visits when they inadvertently ran into a sister who was on the “do not contact” list. Surprisingly, she talked to them and agreed to come to Church. She had not been active for a number of years, was barely YSA age, and was an unemployed single mom to a little baby. The ward missionaries weren’t sure if she’d continue coming or what the situation would be, but she came to this YSA ward. And she kept coming. She brought her baby and her need for friendship and she came.

The members of this ward showered love on her and her baby and her whole family. They provided rides and babysitting and all sorts of things to help this young mom out. They helped her get into school and find a job and work toward a better life. Her baby received a name and a blessing in the ward. I was astounded at the lack of judgement and the huge love shown to this young woman.

As often happens with those who experience difficult economic circumstances like she did, she was forced to move and has passed through many other difficulties since then. While she has since fallen out of practice of going to Church, I still stay in touch with her. What she knows and what she remembers is love and help and the lack of judgment. She knows there are people who love her, and our ward did. Do you want to know how to be about the Father’s business? Love people. Love on them so much and so hard that you start to forget the differences among us.

Another example of love was with a member who joined the Church in our ward. He also experienced difficult economic challenges and had a difficult history but wanted to change. He felt something and wanted the light of the gospel in his life. I don’t think there was a single member of the ward who didn’t know him and just show love to him. When his father passed away unexpectedly, this ward raised the money to pay for his father’s cremation costs. This member has also had struggles with the Church, but what he remembers is the love of this ward. It’s love that changes hearts. In the Church, we don’t just love people because they are like us or because they come to Church or not. We love them because we are all God’s children. We love others because we love God.

And I’d like to share my own expression of love. Having been in the Wilford YSA Ward for 7 years, I had been there through some very trying times. I was there through some struggles with depressing times and an anxious heart. I was there through some severe darkness as I encountered significant and overwhelming family challenges. Even when I couldn’t always feel it for myself, you know what I was shown? Love. The scriptures say that God is love. I believe that’s true. So when you show others love, you are showing others God. And when others show you love, they are showing you God.

In the New Testament, the Savior teaches his disciples, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). The way we show we are disciples of Christ is to love others.

The third principle of being about the Father’s business is believing.

What should we believe in? In the Book of Mormon, in one of my favorite passages, we read of King Benjamin, a righteous king, who taught his people well. He said, “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.”

As in many times before us, we are experiencing a time where people flee religion and often even belief. But we must be about our Father’s business. We must believe.

Some time ago, I was experiencing a time of uncertainty and had a lot of questions. That sometimes happens when you’re a faithful member of the Church and things aren’t always perfect, because we sometimes unjustly equate faithful lives with lack of troubles. But that is not so. Faithful lives are exactly what they say they are—Faith. Full. Full of faith. As I struggled through some questions, I thought to myself, “Surely, I must lack faith because I’m struggling to get through this and understand.” The reality was quite the opposite.

I started to learn that those particular moments were challenging me to be even more faithful. Full of faith. I’d forgotten what faith was. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul teaches, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). As I instead began to see myself as one leaning more and more into the unknown in this situation, I realized that I was exhibiting greater faith. I did not know what was going to happen. I did not know all the answers. I didn’t even know for sure if God cared at that point in time. But I chose to believe. And that is what faith is. In a time when I thought I was exhibiting less faith because I felt somewhat spiritually weak, the act of believing and continuing forward was actually an exhibition of great faith.

The same can be true for you. I would add to King Benjamin’s discourse: Believe in God. Believe in his goodness. Believe in the grace of His son Jesus Christ which saves us from our weakness and our sin. Believe.

If you don’t know if God exists or if He cares about your life, believe.

Believe that when God says He’ll answer all prayers, that He will.

Believe that when Christ says he can conquer all, that He will.

Believe that you will see a loved one who has passed away because God has created a plan for all of us to return to Him as families.

And because God cares about our everyday, personal lives, believe that you can get out of debt if you learn to practice principles of self-reliance.

Believe that you can find employment that meets your needs.

Believe that your education will be beneficial to you and help you do more good in the world.

Believe that you can be supported in your trials.

Believe that you are good enough.

Believe that your covenants to share the gospel, seek out your ancestors, and care for those in need are real covenants that will bring real blessings.

Believe that you have been chosen by God to serve in the calling you are serving in.

Believe that God is aware of your mental health struggles and desires to help and bless you.

Believe that you can overcome your personal challenges including addictions and pornography use.

Believe that you can be healed.

Believe that you can be forgiven.

Believing is what drives us to seek out and know our Father’s will and to do it. We are not puppets in God’s hands but rather instruments available to serve and bless and love others.

When you are about the Father’s business and doing God’s work, He will find ways to show you He is there, if you look for Him.

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ and know that its truths will lead us to greater happiness than we can even know. I invite you all to find these truths out for yourselves, or seek to be reminded of them.

Serve. Love. Believe. These will lead you to being about the Father’s business.

[Note: This post is adapted from a talk I was asked to give on my last Sunday in the Wilford YSA Ward on September 10, 2017. Some have asked why my talks are so long. Generally, I speak at double speed in Church. I’ve tried to slow down, but I have yet to calm the heck down and slow down, which means I can pack in a lot of words. I was also asked to speak for a longer time frame in this talk, so that accounts for the length as well].

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